He was hard to miss. His blonde head rose above that of his peers and his impish grin, contagious. As a 6th grade teacher, I was well acquainted with the idiosyncrasies of my students’ sizes as hormones waxed and waned during the pre-teen years. But this young man stood out. I would later learn that there was good reason he seemed so.much.bigger. than his classmates. He was a full year older than most of them. He had been held back intentionally by his parents, not because of academics, but because they had every intent of making him into a football star.
And it worked.
This class-clown of a kid would go on to play winningly as quarterback for Notre Dame before being drafted into the NFL. I was a new teacher and it was the first time I had ever heard of “redshirting” kids in elementary school, but it wasn’t just this incredible student that would shape my own views of redshirting.
The term “Redshirt” is traditionally associated with college football:
Student athletes become redshirts for many reasons. One reason is that the athlete may not be ready to balance the demands of academic requirements with athletic requirements. Redshirting provides the opportunity, with tutoring, to take some classes and get accustomed to the academic demands. They also may redshirt to gain a year of practice with the team prior to participating in competition. In college football a student athlete may redshirt to increase size and strength toward the completion of overall physical maturity, desirable assets for many positions. As the college years coincide with the final phases of physical maturity, using a year of eligibility in the last college year is generally more beneficial to the team and to the student athlete's potential professional prospects than it is to use the same year of eligibility in the first college year. Players, especially in football, may redshirt to learn the team's play book, since college teams typically run a greater number of, and more complex, plays than most high school teams. (Wikepedia)
When it comes to academics, the idea of redshirting kids can be controversial-you can find many a debate or book about the extensive research on the topic, but it boils down to this: many parents believe that redshirting their kids often gives them an advantage and increases their success rates in socialization, academics, and athletics.
It wasn’t just my football-player-in-training’s example that caused me pause for thought about one day redshirting my own children. After nearly 10 years in the classroom, most of which were in the 10th, 11th, and 12th grades as a high school English teacher, it was undeniable that the kids who were the oldest in their grade level were academically the strongest, most mature, and responsible.
There are studies that both refute and support the idea that redshirting gives kids an edge over the long haul, so I simply based my views on my personal experience of teaching for a decade. The evidence in my own experience as a teacher was overwhelming. I knew that when I became a parent, I would absolutely wait to put my kids into school until they were 6 years of age-and preferably only attend 1 half day of preschool the year prior to kindergarten at age 5.
I didn’t need to convince my husband. He had been the oldest kid in his class and so was I. We both knew the pleasure of being leaders in our grade levels. It was an easy decision for us.
My oldest son, Oliver, was R.E.A.D.Y. for kindergarten at age 5 if you compared him to his friends. He is a typical firstborn and extremely bright. He talked in sentences before he was 1 year of age and has incredible athletic prowess. I got a ton of pressure from friends and family about holding him back but I looked forward to letting him be a kid and spend time with me, one more year. Ollie is strong academically and a mature sweet boy but he is also sensitive and emotional at times-the extra year at home with me gave him time to develop in that area so he could cope more easily with being in a classroom setting. I didn’t need to worry about him crying at the drop off in the kindergarten line. It’s one of the best decisions I ever made. Last year, his veteran kindergarten teacher pulled me aside and affirmed that same notion. He pleaded with me to keep up the trend, acknowledging Oliver’s maturity, leadership, and strong academics.
I have a large group of friends who home school for similar reasons-they can gauge the timeframe of when they want their kids to begin school and make adjustments easily so that the pressure to begin early is removed.
Over and over and over again, teaching colleagues nod their heads when I bring this topic up in discussion. I asked the question about redshirting on my personal facebook page recently and the comments from teachers and students who had been redshirted poured in. Not a negative one in the bunch. I have heard many parents regret putting their kids in too early but I have yet to meet someone that regretted redshirting their son or daughter.
I know that the topic can be controversial because parents feel that redshirting gives kids an advantage, except they have the same choice. It’s not unfair if it’s available to everyone. If I, as a parent, can give my boys any advantage that is for their good, why in the world would I not do so? For me, it’s not about them rising above their peers so much (although that is a bonus) as it is my belief that starting school at a bit older age is simply in their best interest. Studies show that early childhood development doesn’t necessarily give any lead over the long haul, but redshirting your kids often does.
I don’t plan on making football stars out of my boys but I absolutely want them to be as physically, mentally, spiritually, and academically prepared for life as possible and I believe that when I redshirt them in school, I’m being a good steward of my child’s abilities.
The classroom isn’t the only place for learning. Those first 6 years of life with me, exploring the world, are a wonderful starting point for the formal education that is to come for the rest of their childhood. I will never get back those hours with my boys before they begin school and I want to ring every minute out of these days to spend time with them as a mom. It’s not an easy road because it meant living in a tiny apartment for a long time, owning only 1 car, and not taking fancy family vacations so that I could be home with my sons. Finances never played a role in our decision, even when we spent years unemployed and struggling. We prioritized what we wanted for our family and built our lives around what would support our family’s main goals.
Truthfully, I know that not all of my boys are going to necessarily be at the top of their class or run for president of the student body. I want them to naturally develop their own interests and become whoever God made them to be, but taking the risk of starting them off in life sooner than later holds little appeal when I weigh the pros and cons. It’s simply not a chance I am willing to take.
You can find counter-arguments all over the internet and we all know that there will be exceptions and naysayers, but the sum of my own experience as a student, as a teacher for a decade, and now as a parent of boys who thrive and excel in school as redshirts are confirmation enough for me that redshirting my kids is one of the most positive and influential things I have done as a parent. I’m not afraid that they will get bored or feel left behind by their friends who are in a grade level ahead of them and attend other schools. I certainly won’t regret stealing back that extra year to influence them in my own home.
Ultimately, each parent needs to make the best decision for their own particular child. There is no static formula when it comes to kids and their unique needs. I had younger students in my classroom that excelled and sometimes the small kid on the team is the best player.
In a fast paced world where we hurry up but often get nowhere fast, I’m choosing to slow things down for my sons in the area of schooling and I’m thankful for the choice. I simply hope that others will be respectful of my decision. For the mom or dad who has been on the fence about whether or not to redshirt their own child, do your research and get good advice from people in the know, but don’t dismiss your own instincts.
When we make the best decisions we can as parents whether our kids begin school at age 5 or age 6, we show that we are parents who want the best for our kids because we care.
And that is the best advantage of all.
YOUR TURN! Did you redshirt your kids?